Reflection- Garbage/Pollution in India

It’s actually quite ridiculous that India has no recycling program nor proper sewage and water works, but it’s definitely a hangover from India’s historical context.

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I mentioned, in my last travel entry, the garbage in India.  I talked about it like it was only along the train tracks in the city, but it was literally everywhere.  Garbage in the streets, in the fields, along the roadways, choking the rivers, covering riverbanks in layers of garbage and plastic, garbage tips- literally a downward hill embankment that people just spontaneously made into a garbage tip.  Who knows when, if ever that garbage gets picked up..

When in India, it’s hard to ignore the reality that single serving wrappers and plastic everything are both the bane of human existence and the very thing that gives us the quality of life and health that we enjoy- India simply does not have the infrastructure for human waste and garbage yet.  There were a couple of recycling bins in the bigger towns such as Panaji in Goa, and Dharmsala, that have a very specific context which makes them  places where recycling would be considered desirable and put the resources towards it.

I read an interesting Indian magazine article; an interview with a grassroots social activist working to illustrate the effect that the Indian caste system has on how things get done in the country.  The lowest castes traditionally have the dirtiest jobs handling waste and garbage, the higher castes have never had a part in dealing with it.  So in a weird way, the garbage is a cultural blind spot brought on by the caste system. It’s almost not their fault. The caste system makes it very difficult for the upper caste people to put their minds to problems that are “beneath” them, like sanitation, garbage collection, sewage. It’s actually quite ridiculous that India has no recycling program nor proper sewage and water works, but it’s definitely a hangover from India’s historical context. Bureaucrats and officials in high levels of government LITERALLY have not been capable of wrapping their heads around managing garbage because it should not even be on their radar- they’re too “upper class”, it’s not something they have ever been concerned about in their caste- it just gets taken away. This is literal, India just dumps everything, and the dumps are just about full.  Whereas, there has been very little improvement for the working conditions of those people who belong to the lower caste because there is little top-down leadership on these issues. This activist really hammered that people of the lower caste were dying when working to empty out septic tanks due to suffocation, the oxygen content is so low and the gaseous offsets of the waste literally suffocates them. Most towns and cities have never built sewer systems.  The officials go on inspection and since they don’t see women belonging to the lower caste carrying baskets of human waste on their heads in such a project, they consider the matter fine.  It’s a socio-cultural issue, according to this activist.

India started recycling in 2016. The main dump outside of Mumbai was 97% full by Oct. 2016 said an Indian daily I read on the bus…